Start Small

Start small. Start where you are.

When it comes to making life changes, as much as I love positive self-talk and big ideas, I am an even bigger fan of practicality.

If you are in a space of self-hate, self-love won’t just walk in the door and kick the self-hate aside. You have to start where you are, and find a small step you can actually manage right now, in your current headspace. Googling “positive affirmations” won’t fix you. You have to do something you can see and measure.

If you are depressed, you feel exhausted, you feel stuck, you feel thwarted – you have to take manageable steps.

Start small.

Are you wallowing in loathing and self-blame because you weigh more than you think you should? Did you make 20 New Year’s resolutions about working out more, eating better, and dropping 4 sizes in 4 months? Yeah, that was bullshit. It’s too much all at once, and you may not even NEED to drop 4 sizes. You may actually be a very healthy weight, but you feel awful because you’re tired or inactive.

Start with one small, manageable change that you can measure – one small, manageable change you can build into a new habit.


Instead of starting a dramatic new fad diet (Raw Vegan, anyone? Paleo? 21 Day Juice Fast Detox Reset?), notice if you are actually eating the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. You don’t need an all-raw veggie diet, if you never eat vegetables at all.

If you are not, see if you can increase your veggies. And again, start small.

  • If you do not regularly eat veggies, work on getting ONE SERVING EACH DAY.
  • If you usually get in ONE veggie with dinner, try for a serving of fruit AND another veggie with lunch.
  • Ramp up your servings of veggies and fruits gradually, over weeks, and THEN see how you feel when you’re eating a reasonable amount as part of a balanced diet.

It almost sounds too easy, doesn’t it? Well, it should – it is manageable, and it is reasonable.


Get your regular physical from your doctor plus standard bloodwork, so you can rule out issues that might interfere with weight loss or activity or sleep.

  • If you are legitimately DEPRESSED, tell your doctor. Trying to lose weight or make a bunch of dietary changes, when you are depressed, is counterproductive. Weight loss and diets won’t fix depression, and can often make it worse.
  • Exercise IS good for depression, but it’s harder to find the motivation for it. So keep working your plan, step by step, by starting small, right where you are.

Instead of jumping into 5 days at the gym from a sedentary lifestyle, and quitting because it’s TOO MUCH ALL AT ONCE, try one new thing.

  • Walk for 10 minutes after dinner on Monday and Wednesday.
  • If that feels good, you might make a 10 minute walk after dinner Monday through Friday an automatic addition to your life.
  • Then stretch your 10 minute walk into 20 minutes.

20 minutes of exercise gently becomes 50 minutes, then stretches into 100 minutes of exercise per week. All by breaking it up into small, manageable bites.

[Once again, I am going to direct you to my friend GoKaleo, who wrote up a fantastic blog post about walking for fitness.]


I teach yoga, so obviously I should be recommending yoga classes, right? Well, only if they work for you!

Yoga people overcommit, too – and they also get overwhelmed by the other things in life that drag us all down into depression and self-blame. Life is too short to feel badly about “missing yoga class”.

  • Instead of (over)committing to class every day, 7 days a week, and quitting because it’s just too much all at once: take only one class a week.
  • If one class works well for your schedule, and you feel good, THEN see about adding in a second class.
  • Do a 30 minute yoga video at home, a few times a week.
  • Develop a short home practice: Pick 4 or 5 beginner postures you can do safely in 10 to 20 minutes.
  • Sit quietly for 10 minutes, call it meditation.  🙂

Build in more time for rest and self-care.

Are you tired? Do you sleep poorly or less than 7 hours a night?

GO TO BED EARLIER!

Again, start small.

  • Plan a bedtime that allows 8 hours in bed before planned wake-up time.
  • THEN GO TO BED AT THAT PLANNED TIME <<—– Important! 🙂
  • Turn off screens (computer, TV, games, smartphones) 30 to 60 minutes ahead of your planned bedtime.
  • Take a bath before bedtime to relax.
  • Wear a sleep mask to block light; earplugs to block noise.
  • Go to bed the same time every night.

Simple sleep hygiene can do wonders, if you prioritize it.

If you improve your sleep hygiene, and your sleep does not improve, you may need a sleep study.  <<<—- SEE YOUR DOCTOR

(Another Note about Depression: lack of sleep and excessive sleep are both signs of depression, please see your doctor if you think you may be clinically depressed.)


Many people will argue they simply “don’t have the time” and that’s why they “always fail” at exercise, food, and self-care. This is not something to dismiss – if you feel you do not have time to do something, you won’t do it. I hesitate to call it an excuse, because that adds to the feelings of failure and self-blame that keep people in a cycle of depression and self-loathing. Nobody needs that. We prioritize according to what we believe is true about ourselves and about our lives.

Perceived lack of time is a great reason to start small: don’t overcommit.

Prioritize ONE THING so that you can carve out the time for it. Give yourself permission to put your own care higher on the list.

If you are juggling work, school, family, you will almost always put your need for self-care last.

Recognize you can downsize your commitments to small steps of 10 or 15 minutes a day, or one new veggie a week, or 30 more minutes of rest in the evening.  Prioritize yourself without the overwhelm.

Start small. Start where you are.


References:
http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/pdf/adultguide.pdf
http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/index.html
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/FitnessBasics/American-Heart-Association-Recommendations-for-Physical-Activity-in-Adults_UCM_307976_Article.jsp
http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vegetables-full-story/
http://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/everyone/fruitsvegetables/howmany.html

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